Antarctic voyage: Leaving port and sea sickness

By Guest Author 04/02/2013

Written by Dr Helen Bostock, marine geologist at NIWA, and Anne Waterhouse (ship’s doctor)

Date: 3/2/2013
41.52247˚S, 174.772597˚E
Weather: Sunny, northerly breeze
Sea state: Some waves, gentle swell

Dolphins. Credit: Helen Bostock

After a week of packing, training and mobilising, we set off from the wharf at 9am Sunday, sailing out of Wellington harbour accompanied by a large school of dolphins.

Over the last week the weather has been perfect and we hope we will have some nice calm seas so that we can find our “sea legs” quickly.

It generally takes a day or two for people’s bodies to become accustomed to the ship’s motion at sea, and many have no trouble adjusting at all.

However, a few will have some sea sickness, which is thought to be caused by the mismatch of cues from our vestibular systems – these detect motion and help us maintain our balance.

On the foredeck of the RV Tangaroa. Credit: Helen Bostock

So, if we are inside reading or working at a computer while on board, it seems to our eyes and body that we are in a stationary environment. However, our vestibular systems can detect the ship’s motion, and this mismatch can trigger the symptoms of seasickness: generally feeling unwell, a slight headache, a feeling of abdominal discomfort, and/or sweatiness. These are the early signs, of course – it then progresses to nausea and vomiting.

As with all things, prevention is the key. Anti-seasickness tablets or medication beforehand and for the first day or two is very sensible. Many things have been tried and everyone has to find out what works for them.  Dr Anne Waterhouse, the doctor on board, has a large supply of Avomine and Phenergan tablets, which she recommends everyone takes on the first day at least.

People watching dolphins with cruise ship in the background. Credit: Helen Bostock

Everyone will have some seasickness at some time, especially if we travel through big stormy seas. The best thing is to minimise the conflicting inputs… put down the book, leave the computer. Lying down with the eyes closed and taking your preferred medication usually works for most people. If you cannot get horizontal, fresh air and keeping your eyes on the horizon will help.

Even if you are sick it is critical to keep drinking water to stay hydrated, and it’s also important to try to eat small amounts – dry crackers are usually the food of choice and there is a large supply on the ship.